As the New York Giants enter their bye week with a dismal (and painfully unexpected) 1-6 record, the faces of the franchise have nothing but questions to answer. Of course, as the Giants’ franchise quarterback and by far their longest tenured player, many of those questions fell to Eli Manning.
Going into his 14th year in the NFL, even the Giants admit that Eli is nearing the end -- “On the back nine.” was the term Jerry Reese used this past offseason. With the Giants unable to win games and the offense quickly becoming an embarrassment, some are beginning to wonder if Manning is still able to be a franchise quarterback, whether he will be able to do his job with a depleted receiving corps.
Manning isn’t one of them, however.
“No.” He said, “I can still play at a high level and can get this offense going and do better than what we’re doing.” Adding, “Hey, you know, I got to play better. So, I’m going to worry about my job – going out there and playing at a high level.”
The Giants were obviously hurt by the loss of Odell Beckham Jr. No unit can simply shrug off, arguably, the league’s best player at his position. But also the loss of Brandon Marshall, Dwyane Harris, and Sterling Shepard (temporarily) left the Giants scrambling for options to whom Manning can throw. The sole surviving receiver, Roger Lewis Jr., was joined by Tavarres King, Travis Rudolph, and Ed Eagan. Of the group, King -- a journeyman receiver -- has by far the most experience in the NFL.
That means that not only do the coaches have to get the young receivers ready to play each week, it also falls to Eli to elevate their games and put them in position to succeed.
“Yeah, well I think that’s definitely part of the job,” Manning said, when asked if it was fair to say that he has to make the receivers play better. “You got to find out what guys do well and put them in a position to make plays, throw accurate passes and give them a shot to make plays. So, it’s a combination. We have to make improvements. I have to – not coach them up – but make sure we’re doing things the right way and everybody is playing at a high level.”
Of course, in classic “Eli” form, Manning sheltered the young receivers from the press’ criticism, and taking the blame for the Giants’ lack of an offense outside of Evan Engram.
He said, “Well, I mean, everybody knows their assignments. It’s guys who have been here, so they’re running the right routes. It’s just a matter of – it’s not all on them. It’s not on the receivers. It’s not just, ‘Hey, the receivers ran bad routes. That’s the reason we’re not having success.’ So, I think they’re doing a good job. We got to give them an opportunity. We got to give them shots to make plays. So, this isn’t the receivers’ fault. They’re doing some good things. It’s our job to give them an opportunity to get open.”
But while the situation with the receiving corps is still relatively new, the Giants’ offensive line has been the subject of criticism for far longer. By the end of Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks, Justin Pugh had joined Weston Richburg on the list of injured Giants, and that unit too was without its two best players. Unsurprisingly, Eli offered the men tasked with keeping him on his feet the same cover he gave the young receiving corps.
“Well, we have to put them in the same situation,” he said when asked if the offensive line has played better as the season has progressed. “Can’t be second, third and longs. Thought last week, we did a good job managing the offense. So, we had third down protections that were good. We just weren’t able to convert on them. We went against a good defensive front and they got pressure on a few things. But, some of them I got to stand in there and make throws. So, I think the offensive line, hey, they’re competing. They’re doing a good job. We’re getting positive runs and putting us in a position to convert on third downs and now we just got to convert on those third downs.”
Ultimately, Manning’s message to his team for the bye week is simple:
“Well, I think obviously take some time off, get away. After seven games, you’re going to have bumps and bruises and obviously we’ve gone through a tough stretch. So, get away from it a little bit, but come back understanding we got a lot of football games left and we got to get better. We have to make improvements and we have to find ways to win some football games.”